A few weeks ago I did something all Mets fans do nowadays: I sat down to watch other teams play in the post-season. I had my Mets cap on, a can of Coke, some pretzels. And within 5 minutes I heard news that surprised me. The Indians were returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 (as if that was a long time). The Indians? Really??? Cleveland, ‘The Mistake by the Lake,’ was playing October baseball for the second time in seven seasons?
I’m a Mets fan and therefore I don’t follow the AL as closely as I probably should. The last time I think I watched an Indians game, Roberto Alomar was playing second base for them.
No team has ever cake-walked through 162 games or gone an entire season without injuries. What separates good teams from bad teams is the ability to overcome adversity. Good clubs turn it up a notch when a player goes down. Bad teams drop their heads, slouch their shoulders and say ‘Wait ‘till next year.’ Good teams don’t give up the moment darkness appears on the horizon. Bad teams do. Fans of good teams sit on the edge of their seat, sweating every pitch of the post-season. Fans of bad teams relax with a Coke and some pretzels.
Simply put, good teams find a way to get the job done. Bad teams make excuses.
Of the teams in the 2013 post-season not one had an easy road to October. However, they found a way to get there.
In 2010, Dusty Baker guided Cincy to the division title. In 2012, he did it again. In 2013, the Reds made it again. This time they lost the wild card game to Pittsburgh. Baker had led his team to the post-season 3 out of 4 years, averaging 89 wins over that span. Yet, in spite of this, management wanted more. Baker was fired immediately after his club was eliminated. Were they right or wrong for letting him go? Maybe, maybe not. The point, however, is that management demanded a pennant and/or a championship. Post-season appearances were not good enough.
Meanwhile, in Flushing, after three consecutive losing seasons, Mets management had no qualms about bringing back Terry Collins for two more years.
BOSTON RED SOX
The 2012 Boston Red Sox were not a Baseball team, they were a reality show. They took dissension, rebellion and discontent to a whole new level. They finished in last place, going 69-93, 26 games behind the Yankees. In 2013, despite hiring a new manager, the outlook was bleak. One month into the new season, they lost their closer, Joel Hanrahan, to Tommy John surgery. No need to fear, Andrew Bailey is here. Bailey held it for just a month before he too was placed on the DL and the job of slamming the door fell into the lap of some unknown guy named Koji Uehara. They lost their closer and then they lost their back-up closer, but they didn’t give up. Instead, they found a way to win. After going from worst to first in a single season, Boston is now just three wins away from their third championship in 10 years. (Remember those good ol’ days when we made jokes about Bill Buckner? Looks like Boston got the last laugh.)
In the 90’s Atlanta had perhaps the most formidable trio of starters in baseball history. But nothing lasts forever. Tom Glavine went to New York, Greg Maddux returned to Chicago and John Smoltz found his way to Boston. Yet, the Braves just kept on winning. Bobby Cox, the fourth winningest manager of all time, retired. Future first ballot Hall of Famer Chipper Jones also retired. And what did the Braves do? They kept on winning.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
As impossible as it sounds, the Dodgers front office made ours look normal. Theirs was a dysfunctional mess. Lawsuits, divorce, chaos. MLB stepped in when the team filed bankruptcy and forced Frank McCourt to sell his club prior to 2012. As Clayton Kershaw rose to prominence, they added Adrian Gonzalez. And Zack Greinke. And Hanley Ramirez. They dabbled in the International market and found Yasiel Puig. They dethroned the defending World Champion Giants. They turned the entire franchise around in two seasons. (Hello, Sandy Alderson? Two seasons.)
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are not exactly known for packing in the fans. They are, for all intents and purposes, the Montreal Expos of the American League. In 2013, they were without B.J. Upton, losing him to free agency. They traded star pitcher James Shields to KC but then lost their own ace, David Price for 6 weeks, In spite of being without their ace for one fourth of the season along with an apathetic fan base and very little support from the local community, the Rays managed 92 wins in baseball’s toughest division. It was their 4th post-season appearance in 6 years, the same number the Mets have had in 25 years.
Some of the all-time greats were Tigers. Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg Charlie Gehringer, Al Kaline and Mickey Cochrane are just some who passed through Motown on their way to Cooperstown. However, at the outset of the 21st century, the club was a laughing stock. In 2003, they put a serious assault on the infamous record held by the 62 Mets for most losses in a season. They lost 119 games. As recent as 2008, they lost 88 times. But they didn’t wallow. In a city that is dying, Detroit gave their fans reason to live. Things turned around quickly. Verlander, Scherzer, Fielder and Cabrera have transformed the Tigers into the premier powerhouse in the American League.
Cleveland had no shot to make the post-season in 2013. They had the misfortune of playing in the same division as the Tigers and the White Sox. In 2012, Cleveland struggled to avoid the century mark in losses, finishing with a record of 68-94. Then management took an interesting approach. Are you ready? Are you sitting down? They hired a manager with a track record of success. What a novel concept! In his first season Terry Francona turned the team around. Cleveland improved by 24 wins. Just one season after losing 94 games, they were in the post-season. (Sandy? Hello?)
Let’s be honest. The Mets may play in New York but we operate as if we are a small market club—just like Oakland. We play second fiddle to the Yankees — just like Oakland is to the Giants. However, in spite of Oakland’s small market approach and even smaller payroll, they always somehow manage to make it to the post-season — or at least stay competitive. No, these are not the Bash Brothers. Nor are they the A’s of the 70’s with Reggie, Catfish and Fingers. The triad of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson was tops in the AL. However, they eventually went their separate ways. But yet, Oakland did not falter and did not waver. They found a way to remain competitive with a bunch of nobodies. The A’s have played post-season baseball 7 times in 14 years, their fewest wins over this time was 75–once. By comparison, the ‘big market’ Mets have won fewer than 75 games 6 times over that same period.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Before the Phillies and before the Braves, the Mets’ arch enemy was always the Cardinals. When I watch St. Louis, I don’t see Pete Kozma, Matt Holliday or Jon Jay. I see Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Danny Cox and Jack Clark. I still see The White Rat, Whitey Herzog, in the dugout. So, it pains me to admit the Cardinals are a class organization. They’re the NL version of the Yankees — minus the big salaries, obnoxious fans and sense of entitlement. After 2011, fans were shocked when they let the best hitter in the game at the time, Albert Pujols, walk away. As if that wasn’t enough, Tony LaRussa, the third most successful manager in baseball history–behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw–retired that same winter. He was replaced by Mike Matheny, a man with no managerial experience in the majors. And yet, the Cardinals didn’t skip a beat. They could have felt sorry for themselves, made excuses and waited for the tide to turn. Instead, they just kept on doing the same thing: Finding a way to win and playing deep into October.
By 2010, it was becoming clear the Mets would not take back NY from the Yankees. The heartbreaking conclusion to 2006 was followed up by a collapse in 2007, another collapse in 2008 and an incredible rash of injuries in 2009. The 2010 Mets finished 18 games back and things were not looking good for the short term future. But hey, at least we weren’t the Pirates, right?
That winter the Mets made a play to land Clint Hurdle as skipper. Hurdle chose to accept the managerial position for the Pirates. In 2010, the Pirates won just 57 games while losing 105. In Hurdle’s first year at the helm, the Bucs were playing 500 at the All-Star Break and although they faltered in the second half, going 72-90 overall, Pirates fans had reason to cheer. In Hurdle’s 2nd year, the Pirates won 79 games and were in a legitimate pennant race until mid-September. In 2013, Hurdle’s third year, his Pirates were in the playoffs. Meanwhile, in three years under Terry Collins, the Mets have won 77, 74 and 74, never finishing closer than 22 games out of first. Pittsburgh can turn things around and go from 105 losses to the post-season in 3 years. But the Mets cant? Hmm, how did the Pirates manage to do such a thing without “A Plan?”
NEW YORK METS
There was a time when our Mets, like these aforementioned organizations, also found ways to overcome adversity. Players turned it up a notch when needed.
Jerry Grote was never an offensive threat. However, he had the arm of Johnny Bench and the leadership skills of Yadier Molina. In 1973, Grote missed 2 months of the season with a fractured right arm. Yet, the Mets won the pennant. In the LCS against Cincinnati, Rusty Staub separated his shoulder while crashing into the wall to rob Dan Driessen of a hit. There was no way in hell you would keep Rusty of the lineup. Separated shoulder or not, Rusty hit 423 in the World Series. In 1985, Darryl Strawberry was on the DL from May 12 to June 28. Yet, his teammates picked up the slack. Without having Straw protecting Gary Carter in the clean-up spot, the Mets managed to win 98 games, fourth most in team history.
In 1986, the Mets didn’t make excuses. Yet, they could have. After all, our ace, Doc Gooden, won one third fewer games in 86 than he did in 85 and his ERA almost doubled. In 1988, Keith Hernandez battled hammy problems all season and played in just 95 games. Gary Carter hit 242 and only knocked in 46 RBI’s all season. Yet, in spite of these sub-standard seasons from 2 of our biggest hitters, the Mets won the division by 15 games, reaching 100 wins.
Good teams find a way to win. Bad teams make excuses. Unfortunately, our fan base has been beaten down and become weary. We continue to buy into Alderson’s mythical plan of rebuilding and having patience. Detroit and Pittsburgh can turn things around quickly, Boston can go from worst to first, Cleveland can increase their win total by 35% in one season, Oakland can remain competitive with a bunch of unknowns. But the Mets supposedly need more time, more time, more time. Just keep buying those tickets, purchasing that merchandise and handing money over to the Wilpons. And believe in the plan.
Sadly, our Mets have gotten to a point where we rise or fall not as a team, but with one or two players. One minor misstep seals our fate for yet another year. If David Wright winces when swinging for the fences, we hold our breath. When Jose Reyes would get up slowly after stealing second we feared a hamstring injury. When Johan Santana peered into the dugout while clutching his shoulder, we thought “Here we go again.” The 2013 season has not even officially ended and with Matt Harvey on the shelf next year, we’ve already started looking forward to 2015. Instead of saying ‘Wait till next year,’ we’ve been reduced to saying ‘Wait till the year after next year.’
Do I have answers? Nope. I’m not sure what we can do at this point. But then again, I don’t need answers. I’m not a manager, general manager or owner. My “job” is to root for the Mets and hope they win. And yes, it’s very easy to sit at my computer and point fingers. However, not only don’t I know what can be done. To be honest, I really don’t care. Just win! Find a way and win! I’m tired of everyone pointing fingers and placing blame.
There is one thing the Mets lead the league in year after year: Excuses.
It’s Terry Collins fault. It’s Jerry Manuel’s fault. It’s Willie Randolph’s fault. It’s Alderson’s fault for not spending enough. It’s Omar’s fault for spending too much. It’s Santana’s fault for getting hurt. It’s Jason Bay’s fault for not producing. It’s Valdespin’s fault for not being a team player. It’s Fred’s fault. It’s Jeff’s fault. It’s Dan Warthen’s fault. It’s Howard Johnson’s fault. It’s our trainer’s fault. It was Reyes’ fault for one bad month, Glavine’s fault for one bad start, Beltran’s fault for one bad at-bat, Aaron Heilman’s fault for one bad pitch.
And the height of insanity? It’s our stadium’s fault! Huh??? The outfield is too big, the walls are too deep, the dimensions are not good. My goodness, we’ve gotten to the point of lunacy where we are blaming a building! I’ve been a fan of baseball for 40 years now and I never recall anyone blaming a physical structure for their team’s lack of success.
My thoughts? I blame the Big Man. No, not Clarence Clemons. I blame the other big man. God. Hey, if He would have put Flushing at an elevation of 6000 feet like Denver, man, would we have good hitting.
In western Pennsylvania, fans of the Pirates are currently licking their wounds. Sure, they made the post-season for the first time in 20+ years but they were wanting more, wanting to play deeper into October. It was a heartbreaking end to their season. I just wonder how many Pirates fans are today saying, “It could be worse. At least we’re not the Mets.”
To answer the question I asked in the title: The answer is None. Mets management would rather make excuses, sit in the dark and just have faith in the plan that a light will come on. Eventually.